One of the most common complaints about the Halo series over the years has been Bungie’s storytelling, or lack thereof. Halo: CE started off fine enough, but as the series progressed, things started to make less and less sense. Halo Reach is a nice change from what we’ve had previously.
Gone is the emotionless hero Master Chief. In his place is Noble Team, six new Spartans that actually have a little personality. You play as Noble Six, the newcomer in this elite group. Unlike the other characters, Noble Six can be customized and appear however you want him to. This includes new helmets, visor colors, chest plates, shoulder pads, knee guards, as well as a few other small accessories. All of these armor upgrades are purely cosmetic, with none of them having any effect on the actual gameplay. For anyone out there tired of always playing as a male character, it even allows you to make Noble Six a woman. Although nothing is dramatically different if you make the switch, the dialogue is slightly different in some of the cutscenes.
The rest of the cast of characters includes Carter, the leader of the group; Kat (the only woman in Noble Team); as well as Jorge, Jun, and Emile. Unlike characters in a lot of shooters they aren’t over the top, trigger-happy, crazy people. The characters have depth, and what happens to them has ramifications not only in the game itself, but in the entirety of the Halo universe.
The story is fairly straightforward: On a routine patrol, Noble Team encounters what it believes to be a fringe milita faction on the surface of the planet Reach. What they find instead is the Covenant, the eternal enemy in the Halo series. Their job – and your job – is to stop them from destroying Reach and finding the location of Earth. The campaign – while initially seeming pretty routine – is filled with emotional moments as the game progresses, simply because the characters feel real. The story isn’t groundbreaking by any means. It is, however, a step up from what we’ve received in previous Halo games and better than what most first-person shooters deliver.
The much-loved Battle Rifle is no longer a part of Reach’s sandbox. Bungie has focused on creating a more balanced weapon set this time out. Every weapon has its strengths and weaknesses; you can’t dart around the map killing everything in sight with one gun. Learning what works in each situation and then using it correctly when the time comes is the key to success here.
One of the biggest changes to Reach is the implementation of reticule bloom. Unlike other games in the series, you can’t kill your opponents by simply shooting faster. Reach forces players to pick and time their shots, by forcing something called “reticule bloom” on the player. Basically, there’s a second reticule around your primary aiming reticule; as this expands, your shots lose accuracy. This means that the faster you shoot, the less accurate you are,
Another major difference to both campaign and multiplayer is the addition of armor abilities. Presented as a pick-up in campaign, and as a pick-up or weapon load-out option in multiplayer, armor abilities can change the tide of battle, or simply buy you a little time to regain a small bit of health or shields in the middle of a tense shootout. Abilities like the Jet Pack can give you a leg up, allowing you to temporarily float above the battlefield, or to simply get to a new sniper’s nest. Other abilities, like Sprint or Evade, will get you away from danger, while the Armor Lock grants you temporary immunity at the sacrifice of mobility. There are seven abilities in all, and each has a significant effect on any game mode that they’re used in.
It’s worth mentioning that both campaign and multiplayer now feature the ability to assassinate enemies. Depending on a number of factors, when you press and hold the melee button in a stealth kill, you’ll see your Spartan swiftly take out an enemy. It’s easily one of the more brutal aspects to the game.
While the Halo series has had a bit of an uneven history in the past with its single player campaigns, with Halo: Reach, Bungie has gone back and refined the experience to near perfection. Gone are the linear corridors of Halo 2 and 3. In their place, Bungie has brought back the more open-ended level design of the original game, while retaining that sense of wonder that the best moments in the series have had. Some of the larger levels have multiple routes through them, with multiple strategies for success. Replay is high, and I actually wanted to play through the game again, which is something that I missed from the first Halo.
Levels also have more variety, with the biggest change taking the form of Noble Team’s journey into space. One of the larger set pieces of the game, the level (called Long Night of Solace) features you controlling a space fighter called a Sabre, and defending Reach from incoming Covenant swarms. It controls tightly, and the level’s eventual transition onto a Covenant flagship is terse, excellent, and one of the standout moments in the game.
Another level, called Nightfall, is a throwback to Truth and Reconciliation from the first game in the series. A nighttime sniper level, it winds along a cliff side into the depth of Covenant territory. The amazing thing about this level, however, are the sheer amount of options presented to the player to get it to completion. Any way you choose to do it is a blast.
For some, the campaign in Halo is always just the appetizer, with the multiplayer acting as the main course. Unlike some similar games, the Halo series has always had a high replay value, and Halo: Reach looks to be no different. Featuring a large amount of gametypes, maps and customization options, there’s not a lot that’s keeping Reach from lasting as long as Halo 2 did.
Invasion is like a mix between King of the Hill and Capture the Flag. One team spawns as Spartans and the other as Elites, taking turns attacking or defending, resulting in something that feels a lot different than anything else in Reach.
Reach also continues with ODST’s addition of Firefight (a mode much like Gears of War’s Horde mode). Firefight is, in essence, a multiplayer mode that throws wave after wave of Covenant troops at the players, leaving them to compete for high scores until their eventual demise. In the interest of keeping things fresh and stopping stagnation (after all, things have to change), Bungie decided to allow players to modify Firefight with options very similar to any competitive multiplayer mode, except far more hectic and just about as challenging as you want it to be.
ODST’s version of Firefight only enabled players to fight with friends online and in splitscreen. Reach still allows that, but has added the ability to use standard matchmaking for Firefight, which means that you’ll have any number of people willing and able to join your fight against the Covenant.
Matchmaking – across all modes – now allows players to edit their “psychological profile.” This changes your preferences for matchmaking, which enables the service to match you with players that are more suited to who you like to play with. Basically, if you’d prefer quieter players, you can get that. If you’d prefer people yelling and talking trash, that option’s there, too.
Forge – the level editor from Halo 3 that became a massive success – returns in Reach, featuring a whole new set of tools. Bungie also brought in one big addition: Forge World, a giant playground made up of bits of planned multiplayer maps that were connected and unleashed for the player to create levels within.
At first glance, it seems pretty overwhelming, but in practice, it’s pretty basic. Using a small set of tools, plus the building blocks of levels, players can create entire levels for use in multiplayer. Things are more precise than they were in Halo 3, with the addition of a precision tool (no more ruining your map with a thumbstick), and the ability to overlap objects by using the phase tool. The best way to “get” Forge is to use it yourself; it might take a while to get a handle on it, but after some time, your maps can be just as good as Bungie’s.
Halo has always been behind the pack in its visuals. It’s not ugly by any means, but it’s not in the same league as many of the other heavy hitters on either the Xbox 360 or the PS3. So while Reach doesn’t necessarily compete with similar games, it’s definitely an improvement over Halo 3 and ODST.
Characters look real, compared with the mostly ugly character models in Halo 3. That the graphics look as nice as they do with all of the enemies and activity happening on screen is pretty impressive itself.
Bungie also vastly improved how the game sounds. Guns now sound like they have some real power behind them. The Assault Rifle, in particular, is a massive upgrade over how it sounded in previous games. The music remains spectacular, with a score by Marty O’Donnell, who somehow manages to outdo himself here, after impressive scores in the preceding games.
Halo: Reach is pretty tame for an M-rated game, much like the other games in the series. The entire game is spent shooting things, but the violence is not graphic. The enemies are all aliens, and none of them look even a little human. There are blood splotches throughout the game (and depending on the weapon, blood will hit the walls) but no dismemberment.
Language is present, and it’s mostly the type that you’d hear in a PG-13 movie, though it’s not common in the campaign. Xbox Live is where you’ll likely hear the majority of the profanity, though this is solved by simply muting other players.
Looking at all that Reach has to offer, it’s easy to say that you get your money’s worth. Halo’s gameplay might not appeal to everywhere, but the majority of gamers will enjoy themselves during their time with Reach.
This is the last hoorah for Bungie, the creators of a series that arguably changed the direction and focus on console games, and with it, they’ve certainly done a fine job. There are some flaws, but the positives far outweigh any of those. So if you aren’t bothered by violence and a little language, what are you waiting for? Go out and get a copy. You won’t regret it.